The conventional technique of impression cytology provides a non-invasive method for the evaluation of conjunctival epithelium alterations. Using indirect immunofluorescence procedures two inflammatory markers, class II MHC antigens HLA DR and the receptor to IgE (CD23), were sought in impression cytology specimens obtained from 80 patients. In normal subjects conjunctival epithelial cells did not show any reactivity. Only scattered dendritic cells were found to express class II antigens but not the receptor to IgE. In contrast patients with chronic conjunctivitis of various aetiologies, mainly infectious or allergic, had 40-100% of brightly positive conjunctival cells for one or both antigens. In these cases epithelial cells and goblet cells reacted similarly. Twenty four eyes in 12 patients with idiopathic dry eye syndrome disclosed results similar to those from normal conjunctival specimens. However 18 other specimens from patients suffering from idiopathic tear deficiency but undergoing multiple substitutive treatments for dry eye had moderate to strong positivity for HLA DR and/or the receptor to IgE (20-100% of cells). As these results were independent of the degree of squamous metaplasia the expression of these membrane markers may reflect local inflammation in addition to tear deficiency, possibly due to sensitisation to the eye drops used. These immunocytological techniques thus provide useful methods of investigating conjunctival inflammation and allergy. They may constitute valuable aid in the diagnosis and appropriate treatment of ocular surface disorders.
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